You guys, just yesterday I found out that one of my favorite humans ever, J.D. Frost, is releasing a new book today. It is called, Redemption Face: The Black Room Murders, and it is going up as a kindle release for only $2.99! I loved the first two books in the series. They novels are police procedurals but with a depth to them. The main character, Moses Palmer, is what makes them different and so interesting to me. He’s troubled and flawed, but still always strives to do the right thing–according to his own moral code.
J.D., the brain behind Moses, is a good friend and loyal reader of this blog. Though he lives in Alabama, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting him in person a couple of times–when he came to France year before last, and once when I was in Nashville. And I’m excited about the latest entry in the Moses Palmer series. Here’s the blurb about the book:
Detective Moses Palmer is accustomed to driving strange routes, away from the river, around the river. Now Chattanooga is suffering a terrible drought and the mighty Tennessee that cuts through the city’s center is down several feet and barely moving. But Moses hardly notices. He and his new partner are chasing an eerie murderer who leaves his victims in darkness―total darkness. They have no suspects, so Palmer’s new boss, Maddie Kraikos, is breathing down his neck, in more ways than one. Then, the crazed killer ups the stakes, as if he knows Moses’ history, all of his history.
Does life sometimes scar us beyond recovery, beyond redemption? Find out in this thrilling new novel from J.D. Frost.
I’m excited to share this interview with author Pamela Jane with you. I know Pamie through my friend and biz partner, Debbie, and I was lucky enough to read an advance copy of her book. I loved it. Truly could not put it down. So I was happy to learn a bit more about the story behind it. Pamie is an accomplished children’s book author as well as a memoir writer. Scroll down for more information about Pamela Jane and read on.
Tell us a little about the book, please.
An Incredible Talent for Existing is a personal, psychological, and political adventure about how I, as a young woman, got caught up in the radicalism of the 1960s while trying desperately to find my way back to my true self, and the lyrical world of childhood. This inner war of identities became more intense when I embraced radical feminism; my new husband and I were comrades in revolution but combatants in marriage; I was a woman warrior who spent her days sewing long silk dresses reminiscent of a Henry James novel. One half of me wasn’t speaking to the other half. And then, just when it seemed that things could not possibly get more explosive, my country cabin exploded in flames, and I found myself left with only the clothes on my back. The story goes on to describe how I integrated my two selves and became the writer I inwardly imagined myself to be.
Rumor has it that the book took, ahem, a few years to write. Can you talk about the process of writing it?
It took me over twenty years and hundreds of drafts to finish the book, but maybe I was just slow! (I also published many children’s books during this time.) Besides identifying my story, I struggled to find a voice that felt natural. That seems like it should be easy, like an actor who does not appear to be acting, but it is deceptively difficult to appear relaxed and candid in a memoir – in other words be yourself on the page. Paradoxically, I worked hard so that the book would be easy to read. I jokingly express my writing formula this way:
agony + (obsession x conflict) + panic + 10,000 drafts – total crap = finished memoir
You started out writing it as a novel and then turned to memoir. Why? And what was different about how you approached each genre?
I discovered drafts of a novel I was trying to write many decades ago about the events in the memoir. I was young, in my mid-twenties, and had no idea what I was doing. But it was a beginning, and I did use some of the descriptions and dialog from that early novel in my memoir. It would require a change in genre (from novel to memoir, which I think works better) and the magic elixir of time and experience for my (very bad) novel to evolve into the memoir it was meant to be.
You’re an accomplished and prolific picture book writer. Share a little about that. How hard is it to leap from writing for kids to writing for grown-ups?
I’m a kid at heart and writing always feels like playing to me (though sometimes that play is darn hard work!) so writing chapter and picture books for kids, while also writing for adults doesn’t feel like a leap. Also for some mysterious reason, I write only fiction for children and only nonfiction for adults, so each genre occupies its own special sphere.
You cover some pretty wild stuff that happened to you in your earlier years. Did you worry about your family (especially your daughter) reading these parts? This is such a common fear among memoir writers.
Yes, I worried a lot! And I left out a lot, too that didn’t serve the narrative and might have hurt the people I was writing about, if they happened to read it.
My daughter, who is twenty-one now, seemed to have no problem with the memoir, which I was relieved about. However, I did warn her before publishing it that I was writing about some events she might find shocking. When I told her what they were, she looked relieved and said, “Oh, I thought you hurt an animal or something!” That made me laugh and I can promise readers I did not hurt any animal – except a giant water bug I flushed down the drain in one scene.
I’d love to hear a little about how you found your publisher.
This was a long process of submitting to agents and publishers over several years, but I think it was only in the last few months of submitting that I managed to polish my query to a high shine, and clearly articulate the theme of my story.
Advice for memoir writers?
Allow yourself to write ramble in early drafts, and write badly. As Woody Allen said, “that’s why God invented the word rewrite.”
What are you working on next?
I’m working on children’s books and a travelogue about the three years my family and I lived in Florence, Italy. The subtitle is “No One Feels Sorry for You When You’re Living in Tuscany,” which is true!
Anything else you’d like to share?
I’ve seen many novels and memoirs in writing groups or workshops that looked hopeless at the time ultimately evolve into publishable books. Tell yourself giving up is not an option, and if there’s something wrong with your story, don’t despair. You can always fix it!
Pamela Jane has published over twenty-five children’s books with Houghton Mifflin, Atheneum, Simon & Schuster, Penguin-Putnam, Harper, and others. Her books include NOELLE OF THE NUTCRACKER illustrated by Jan Brett, and LITTLE GOBLINS TEN illustrated by NY Times best-selling illustrator, Jane Manning (Harper, 2011). The sequel, LITTLE ELFIE ONE has just come out (Harper). PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND KITTIES: A CAT-LOVER’S ROMP THROUGH JANE AUSTEN’S CLASSIC with coauthor Deborah Guyol was featured in The Wall Street Journal, BBC America, The Huffington Post, The New York Times Sunday Book Review and The Daily Dot, and has recently been issued in paper. Pamela is a writer and editor for womensmemoirs.com, and has published essays and short stories in The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Antigonish Review, and Literary Mama, . An excerpt from her new memoir, JUST WAIT! A Short Story Rejected in Grade School Becomes a Cause in Action appeared in the March issue of The Writer.
I'm happy to share an interview with my friend, Kayla Dawn Thomas, today. Actually, Kayla and I have only met through social media (primarily Twitter and Instagram), but that is about to change. Because this summer, she and her family are visiting Portland. And on July 23rd, the two of us will be doing a reading at a cool local bookstore, Another Read Through on Mississippi, one of Portland's happening neighborhoods. I love this bookstore, and I love that the owner, Elisa Saphier, is a huge supporter of local authors. So come on out and join us on the 23rd at 7 PM. And even if you can't come that night, please do drop into the store if you live in town or are visiting. And now, without further ado, let's find out more about Kayla Dawn.
Tell us a little about yourself.I’m a family, book, wine lovin’ lady. My husband, daughter, and I are living a mostly peaceful, quiet life in Eastern Washington (Go Cougs!)
How and why did you get started writing novels?
It was something I wanted to do since about second or third grade. That’s when the reading bug really bit me, and I wanted to make cool books like the ones I was tearing through. I wrote stories in one form or another all the way through high school. Some harsh college professors slashed my writing confidence, so there was about a decade where I didn’t write anything. Then one day in my early thirties, I started journaling. I was battling anxiety and depression. The idea was to work through that, but what ended up happening was a novel! My childhood dream came true in the midst of that darkness. It’s amazing how life works.
Please tell us a little bit about each of your titles.
Swept Up is my first novel. It was the result of scribbling in that journal. The process of writing broken characters and working them through healing, and of course, falling in love was very cathartic.
The Jenna Ray Stories have been a hoot to write. It all started when a Twitter friend posted a picture of a note he found in a library book that read: Have a stranger come to the bar-tell her he loves her-asks her to go to Chicago with him the next weekend-she doesn’t go. I let my imagination run wild and created a woman vigilante who’s life’s mission is to put an end to wandering penis syndrome (AKA cheating husbands). After writing Narrow Miss on a whim, my husband encouraged me to make it a series. Currently I’m working on the fourth installment. At the moment, I believe there will be five total.
Tackling Summer is my newest novel. It’s very near and dear to my heart as it takes place on a cattle ranch very similar to the one I grew up on. It was fun to revisit childhood memories and the beautiful mountains that left their indelible mark on me. There are so many adventures one can have out in the sticks. I have a feeling there will be more books in this type of setting.
Why did you decide to go the indie publishing route? Do you plan to continue in this arena?
Ahhh, the million dollar question. First off, I’ve always wanted to work for myself. After doing LOTS of homework and realizing I could turn my passion for writing into a viable business, there was no question of the direction I would take. The idea of skipping over the gatekeepers and doing things my way was beyond exciting. At this time, I plan to continue with indie publishing.
Who inspires you? In the same vein, who do you like to read?
It’s tough to narrow down who inspires me the most! First off, my mom and sister. They are both successful entrepreneurs in different fields, and it’s been very inspiring to watch them grow their businesses. Toby Neal and Shanna Hatfield are the two female indie authors I want to be when I grow up. They’re producing great work, run impressive businesses, and are downright good people. They always make time to answer my newbie questions and have been so encouraging to me.
I read a little bit of everything except horror. I hate being scared and/or grossed out. I like happy endings. I turn to Shanna Hatfield when I want something light and friendly. Janet Evanovich is my got to when I want to laugh. Toby Neal and J.D. Robb/Nora Roberts oftentimes take care of my need for a mystery/romance combo fix. I guess there’s a common thread running through that list. I like a good love story, and they can take many forms.
Writing plans for the future?
I’m working on the fourth novella in the Jenna Ray Stories. I’m hoping to have that out in early fall. I’m also sketching an outline for a novel based around Webb Baker’s sister, Celeste, from Swept Up. I knew the moment I typed “the end” on that manuscript that Celeste had a story to tell.
Where can we connect with you? You can find me over at my websitewww.kayladawnthomas.com. My monthly newsletter is the best way to keep up with my new releases, sales, events, special giveaways. I also spend a fair bit of time on Facebook.
Kayla Dawn Thomas writes general and women’s fiction, as well as chick lit novels and novellas. Her mission is to give her readers an escape, from a chronically busy, overwhelmed world offering them the opportunity to settle in and discover someplace new, maybe crack a smile, and find a little romance. She’s been a storyteller all her life. Before she knew how to write, she told stories to a jump rope. Thankfully that stage ended once she learned how to work a pencil. Now she’s blessed to be able to write full time and looks forward to sharing her crazy ideas with readers. Always a romantic, Kayla managed to marry her high school sweetheart. They have a very bright, active nine-year-old daughter.
When not writing or being mom, Kayla can most likely be found in a cozy spot with a good book. Reading, sunshine, and hanging out with family and friends bring her joy.
Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life by Kim Schneiderman
Once again, the wonderful folks at New World Library have offered me a book to review. And once again, I'm making slow progress through it because I keep stopping to ponder and do the exercises. I found the receipt of this book particularly serendipitous because shortly before it arrived, I announced that I was pondering offering a class on a similar topic. (And I'm, um, not anywhere near being done with that little effort.)
So, I bet you're dying to know what the book is about, aren't you? It is called Step Out of Your Story: Writing Exercises to Reframe and Transform Your Life by Kim Schneiderman. (While it cursorily discusses the various aspects of writing a story, this book is aimed at you rewriting your own life story, not the Great American Novel.)
Since I'm making slow progress through the book (a good thing), I decided to offer you and interview with the author, who can talk about it better than I can! Here goes:
What does it mean to “step out of your story?” and how does one do that?
As I write in the opening chapter of my book, “every life is an unfolding story, a dynamic, unique, purposeful, and potentially heroic story with bright spots, turning points, and abounding opportunities for personal growth and transformation.” Most people, when I present this idea to them, accept this to be true. And yet, many people don’t think about what that means. Until something happens that challenges their outlook on life, few take the time to explore the character they’re playing, what their story is about, who’s writing their script, and how the challenges they face can help them develop the insights and skills they need to move to the next chapter.
Stepping out of your story means being able to step outside your life to view it from a novel perspective, both literally and figuratively. That means seeing yourself as the hero of your story, and understanding how all of the classic story elements, especially your antagonists, might be conspiring to help you grow, as many protagonists do over the course of the narrative. Looking at your life this way can also help you embrace plot twists as opportunities to change your life.
Does how we tell our story matter? And if there are infinite ways to tell our stories, is there a best way?
Absolutely. Telling our story is a fundamental way that we come to know ourselves and make meaning of our live. We are constantly sifting through various competing narratives to make sense of our world for ourselves and others. Whether you consider yourself a heroic figure overcoming obstacles or a tragic victim of destiny often depends on how you choose to read the text of your life and the way that you tell your story. We might even describe suffering, in part, as the result of a storytelling deficit, a failure to find a good filing system that organizes the details of one’s life into a meaningful cause-and-effect narrative, which results in an incoherent or distorted story.
While there may not be a best way, there are certainly better ways to tell your story than others. My book proposes telling your story as a personal growth adventure, using the classic story structure to reframe challenges as stepping-stones to a more authentic self and richer life. The classic story elements – protagonist, antagonist, plot, climax, etc. – serve as the architecture of a story. Once we understand how each element of the story scaffolding supports directs and supports the protagonist’s character development, we can use “the story lens on life” to reconstruct a powerful, coherent narrative from the raw materials of our lives.
What does it mean to become a good reader of the text of our lives and how can that help us?
How we “read,” or rather interpret, our story affects how we feel about ourselves, which can influence how our lives unfold. For example, reframing the story of a cancer diagnosis as a tale of finding new sources of resilience and deeper connections with loved ones feels very different from telling the story as one of divine punishment or meaningless misery. In fact, studies show that a positive narrative, and the feelings they engender, can influence prognosis. Similarly, seeing a failed relationship as a lesson in intimacy, resilience, and humility will make us feel a whole lot better, and emotionally ready for our next relationship, than shaping the story as one of self-sabotage and personal worthlessness.
This interpretative lens implies that we value character development in ourselves as much as we value it in the books we read and movies we watch. It entails seeing every person and situation that shows up in your narrative as a personal growth opportunity and recognizing the subtle, often unrecognized personal victories that build character — such as facing a fear, changing an attitude, or kicking a bad habit. This is not necessarily how society traditionally measures success. But or psychotherapists and writers, these kinds of changes mark meaningful progress in someone’s lifelong development, whether that person is a client or an imagined character.
Here’s an example. Let’s say you’re unemployed, and you tell yourself the story that this is just another crappy situation that defines your very difficult life. You ask yourself, “Why does this always happen to me?” Then you finally land a job interview. What happens? If you haven’t eradicated your victim story, it may unintentionally seep out during your interview through your tone and word choice, or you may secretly sabatoge yourself. This may lead you to botch the interview, which causes more suffering and only confirms your negative story.
However, what if you saw the antagonist (in this case, unemployment) of the current chapter in your life (a chapter you might entitle “A Thousand Resumes”) as the necessary force that is pushing you to grow in new ways: perhaps that you are in fact ambivalent about this career path or that you tend to get easily discouraged. In a way, this antagonist is like a personal trainer, and this conflict is the force challenging you to develop your confidence or to become clear about your career direction.
Suddenly, as you exercise control over how you view your situation, the time between jobs becomes an invitation to work on yourself and build your muscles. Through this lens, you might say to yourself, “If I were reading this chapter in a book about the story of my life, I might appreciate that unemployment is nudging me — the protagonist — to get more organized and keep persevering in the face of adversity. I can choose to embrace that challenge, and forge ahead, or drain myself of valuable energy by sinking into discouragement.” Cast in this light, the power of interpretation via the story lens on life offers a powerful elixir for heartbreaks, disappointments, and existential angst.
Does putting a positive spin on your story make it less truthful?
We spin our stories all the time. Every time we open our mouths we make choices about how to tell a tale. Depending on your audience, we may emphasize certain aspects of the story over others, or omit certain details that seem irrelevant, inappropriate, or too complicated to explain. As we tell it over and over, we might remember certain parts we had forgotten initially, or new insights might lead us to spin the story in a totally different direction.
Is one version more truthful than another? Who’s to say? And how does one define truth? Is the objective experience of the things that happen – what I call the “outer story” any more truthful than the feelings we have about what happens – what I call the “inner story?” Some people tend to favor one of these two storytelling styles. But both are “true,” as far as they are meaningful, when it comes to understanding the totality of a person’s experience. That’s why for me, it’s less important whether a story is truthful, than whether it’s personally constructive.
Finally, there are ways to find the redemptive storyline without whitewashing over unpleasant circumstances, repressing feelings, or discounting important life lessons. By reframing your story as a personal growth adventure that identifies the ways you’ve grown as the protagonist of your narrative, there is room for all manner of feelings and experiences, which imbue the story with richness and texture. And the fuller the story, the more it approximates something resembling the truth.
Is there any research to support the efficacy of the third-person storytelling exercises in Step Out of Your Story?
A number of psychological studies in recent years illustrate that recalling past events or thinking about yourself in the third person helps you see yourself through kinder, more compassionate eyes. The reason is that the third person voice creates emotional distance between you and the circumstances of your life, enabling you to see the larger story with greater objectivity. For example, University of California and University of Michigan researchers used a psychologically distancing vantage point when asking participants to reflect on negative memories. Not only did participants report less emotional pain, less rumination, improved problem solving, and greater life satisfaction when discussing matters in the third person, they also gained new insights into those memories without feeling as emotionally overwhelmed. Similarly, in a Columbia University study, students were asked to describe recently upsetting thoughts or feelings, and these bad memories were recalled with less hostility by those using the third-person perspective. In an Ohio State University study, students who recalled humiliating moments in high school in the third-person narrative were more likely to describe themselves as having overcome obstacles than those who recalled similarly embarrassing moments from a first-person perspective. The study concluded that feeling like you’ve changed gives you the confidence and momentum to act in ways that support a perceived new and improved self.
It’s also worth noting that all of this research is aligned with narrative therapy technique known as “externalization,” which uses psychological distancing techniques to prevent people from over-identifying with their problems.
Do people need to be good writers to do the exercises you offer in your book?
No. As I tell my students, your masterpiece of living doesn’t have to be a masterpiece of writing. The exercises are designed for anyone who can compose a simple sentence. The goal is not writing well; the goal is self-discovery. The goal is to write powerfully and authentically. In my experience facilitating workshops, I’ve noticed that the written equivalent of stick-figure drawings may actually teach us more about ourselves than carefully crafted (and controlled) adult sentences. Words-smithing can be about the ego, which I’m trying to help people transcend via the third person narrative. That being said, people for whom writing comes naturally sometimes use the exercises as prompts to get really creative, and have subsequently written some beautiful pieces.
Obviously, no one can predict the future. How then is it possible to predict your own character arc?
One of the ways I help readers get a sense of their character arc is by completing a character sketch of themselves in the third person narrative, assuming the role of both author and protagonist. A character sketch is a technique that helps authors flesh out the personalities and interior world of the protagonist before embarking on a novel. It involves answering a series of imaginative questions that paint a holographic picture of how the protagonist might evolve over the course of the plotline. The character sketch presumes that the protagonist is the soul of every narrative and the engine that runs the story. So, too, I want my readers to understand more deeply who they are as evolving protagonists. The more they understand about who they are, what they’re made of, and what’s driving them, the more they’ll get a sense of where they’re heading.
How can the antagonists of our stories help us grow? Can’t they also bring us down?
Many of us don’t think twice about pushing ourselves to the point of pain and exhaustion at the gym. Yet when life pushes us to exercise our emotional, spiritual, and mental muscles, we often would prefer lighter, gentler, no-impact routines. However, until we are willing to build these character development muscles, we will remain somewhat stunted in our growth, unable to actualize the full strength of what we are capable of, whether in our career, relationships, or communities.
That’s why antagonists are an important part of our story. They are like the personal trainers who push us beyond our perceived limitations to develop our flabby, underutilized emotional muscles. As with a personal trainer, we might openly swear or grin through gritted teeth. We might assign the person sadistic aspirations, thinking the trainer wants to harm or destroy us. But if we read between the lines, whether we like it or not, our antagonist can help us strengthen the underdeveloped areas within ourselves. By definition, they force us to stretch beyond our perceived limitations to discover the true depth of our own capacity to love, succeed, and overcome obstacles.
That’s not to say that we should seek out conflict for personal growth’s sake or use character development as an excuse to endure chronically painful or unpleasant circumstances. Constant pain is a sign that something is amiss. Yet any workout should include a little discomfort so we increase our flexibility to handle more intense situations with greater degrees of ease. It reminds me of something a dance teacher once told me: “Sometimes, when you begin to stretch, your muscles scream ‘no, no, no’ — they don't think they can handle the tension because it's never been asked of them before. But as you gradually ease into the pose, they relax and discover an untapped capacity for elasticity.”
Why do you ask readers to focus on the current chapter, rather than asking them to reframe something that happened in the past or look at their whole life?
While exploring the influence of the past on the present can help us understand ourselves better, we can also get bogged down in old storylines — instead of visiting the past, we might pitch camp there or continue to circle the same old beaten tracks.
The present, however, is the place where change becomes possible. It is the precise moment in the story when you, as the protagonist of your story, can take action and grow. One of the foundational exercises I ask readers to complete is to name and describe the current chapter. From there, I help them reconstruct their story element by element. Eventually, they reassemble these pieces into an empowering new narrative about where they are and where they’re heading. And here is the beauty of this process: once we name our current chapter, distinguishing it from previous chapters within our larger narrative, we may see how the present moment offers possibilities to embrace a new reality and further develop our character. This new awareness can help us get a fresh perspective on areas where we might feel stuck, reframing life's inevitable trials and tribulations as purposeful experiences that won't last forever.
Kim Schneiderman, LCSW, MSW, is the author of Step Out of Your Story. She counsels in private practice and teaches as a professor and guest lecturer at venues including New York University. She also writes a biweekly advice column for Metro Newspapers and blogs for Psychology Today. Visit her online for more information.
I can't figure out what's going on. I know I read a ton last month, but I can't seem to bring any of the titles into my mind. (As soon as I press publish on this post they will flood into my brain.) So here's a quick list of the books I remember:
The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah. This is on the best-seller lists and is getting a lot of buzz, and deservedly so. It's quite good. I learned history from it, too, such as the fact that gazillions of people evacuated Paris when the Nazis first occupied it. And I was reminded of the hardships that Europeans faced during World War II.
That's the only novel I can think of that I read recently, and I usually inhale novels like crazy. But, I have been dipping in and out of a lot of writing books. I don't so much read them cover to cover, because they have inspiration and exercises in them that lead me to the page.
Wild Women, Wild Voices by Judy Reeves. I wrote a whole review of this book here. I'm still working with it for journaling ideas and I like it a lot. Its not so much a book that's going to help you with plotting or characterization, but more the basic writing stuff, like expressing yourself on the page.
The Plot Whisperer by Martha Alderson. This is a book that will help you with your plotting (and there's some info on characterization as well). I bought it on a trip to Seattle and wrote more about it here.
Naming the World, edited by Bret Anthony Johnston. This is most definitely not a book you sit down and read cover to cover, because it is a book of writing exercises. (Although each exercise is preceded by an essay from the author who submitted it.) Good stuff in here.
Into the Woods by John Yorke. This is a book on structure and I am loving it. I ordered it from a bookseller in England (through Amazon) and it took forever to get here and then my husband set the envelope aside under a pile of mail so it took even longer for me to actually find it, but it was worth the wait. An amazing, excellent book on structure, and its readable, too. I embedded a video below of him relating "how all storytelling has worked since the beginning of time" at Google UK.
All this reading on story structure has led me to another activity: going to movies. More on that in my next post. In the meantime, what have you been reading?
Previous months posts are (which I offer in case you need recommendations):
Allow me to introduce you to my former student and now friend, Amanda Michelle Moon. Her book, Stealing the Ruby Slippers, was just released, and I can't wait to read it! I'm so excited about everything she's doing that I asked her if I could interview her and she graciously said yes. Read on! And check out her Kindle Countdown Deal that starts today (details at the end of the post).
CRD: Your book, Stealing the Ruby Slippers, was just released. Can you tell us a little bit about it?
AMM: Jared Canning is in over his head with gambling debt, and has a bookie on his trail. He gets an opportunity to earn the money he needs by breaking into a small-town museum, stealing Judy Garland’s Ruby Slippers, and selling them to a buyer in New Orleans. The robbery goes off perfectly. But Hurricane Katrina wipes out New Orleans, and his buyer, and Jared is stuck—both with the shoes and with a debt he can’t pay.
CRD: Did I see somewhere that this is the first of a series?
AMM: I wrote it to be a stand alone book. Then, while out walking the dog exactly two weeks before the release date, the major plot details for a sequel came to me. Right now I’m working on outlining and doing character sketches for the sequel.
CRD: Where did you get the idea for the book?
AMM: I grew up in Hill City, Minnesota, fifteen miles south of Grand Rapids, where Judy Garland was born. The museum there was the summer home of a pair of Ruby Slippers she wore in The Wizard of Oz. In August of 2005 I was newly married, living with my husband in Nashville, Tennessee, watching coverage of Hurricane Katrina when I saw the headline across the ticker at the bottom of the screen: “Ruby Slippers stolen from museum in Grand Rapids, Michigan.” I freaked out. Grand Rapids, MN, is really small, and almost always confused with Michigan. I called my parents (they still live there) and confirmed what actually happened. The two events, while in reality have no connection what so ever, have been linked in my mind ever since.
CRD: Can you share a bit about the publication process? You indie published, correct? Do you recommend this route to other writers?
AMM: I’d had the idea for this book in my head for years, but I’ve been (and still am) working on another novel, so I didn’t actually sit down to write it until November of last year. It took 21 days to get the first draft done, but I had a very detailed outline. 2014 is the 75th anniversary of The Wizard of Oz and I knew that releasing the book to coincide with all of the festivals would be the best free publicity I would ever get, so I worked my tail off to get it completed. With a timeline that tight, indie/self publishing is the only option. I didn’t have time to query agents or publishers, or to get on a publisher’s schedule or timeline. Indie publishing is a lot of work. I was lucky—a teacher at Hamline put me in touch with a former editor from one of Minneapolis’s publishers, and he talked me through the whole process. A friend of mine, Joe Hart, has had great success self publishing and he gave me a lot of insight and resources. I’m still working on/struggling with marketing and getting the word out. I have a great base of friends and family, and there is a wonderful Wizard of Oz fan base that I’m tapping into. But wider visibility is hard. If you are willing to give up half (or more) of your writing time to the business side of publishing, I do think indie is a good option. I have a history in the music industry and have seen the shift there from the major labels to indies and how good that has been for the artists. Everything we’re seeing in the publishing industry now I saw when I was at labels in the early 2000s. That’s not to say the major houses are going away—or that the prestige of publishing with them is any less desirable—but I know, at least sometimes, it’s a better move to go indie, retain control, and work your butt off.
CRD: When you're not writing novels, what do you do?
AMM: I’ve got two kids, Lily is six and Austin is almost five, so they keep me busy. One of them is always home. I can’t really even imagine what life is going to be like when they’re both in the same school at the same time next year. I’ve also got two dogs, a husband, and a jewelry line (spiralingforward.com). When I’m not busy with any of that, I’m enjoying life in Minneapolis. This town is awesome. From the lakes to the Institute of Art…I love it here. Oh—and yoga and Pilates. I used to teach Pilates and might start again when the kids are in school next year.
CRD: You're currently working on your MFA at Hamline. You and I worked together at the Writer's Loft in Nashville. How has going to school affected your writing?
AMM: I’m a lot more critical, which isn’t a bad thing. I hate the whole editing process. I write really fast, and it’s not awful, and for a long time that was good enough. But having to turn things in for grades and comments…I had to make peace with editing because getting minor issues pointed out is embarrassing. Also, deadlines are awesome for getting work done.
CRD: Having worked with you in the past I know you produce prodigious amounts of writing. Can you tell us a bit about your schedule?
AMM: Well…for a while I was working a retail job with a completely erratic schedule that meant both of my kids were in daycare and the days I had off I could focus on writing. Those days it was common for me to knock out 7-10K words. Ahhhh…the good old days… Now, with at least one kid home at all times, and a husband who is self employed and works from the basement, I’ve had to get more purposeful. Until 9:00am is my time every morning. For a while I was getting up at 5:30 (it was required to get StRS out on time) but I need more sleep than that. So most days I’m up around 6:30 and in my office, working, by 7:00. I have several projects I’m working on now: a sequel to this, the aforementioned novel, a YA book, and a collection of short stories. I break my time out into chunks and dedicate a certain amount to each project. I use a lot of the time management tools that Kimberly Wilson talks about at Tranquility Du Jour, and I recently discovered Nozbe, which I think is going to help with the organization a lot.
CRD: What is your best advice to other writers?
AMM: I have two: 1) Find a writers group. You need to get regular feedback (and camaraderie) from other writers that you trust. Writers can spot problems with your work that your beta readers don’t. (let’s face it—your beta readers are there because they like what you write.) 2) Have more than one project going at a time. That way, when you get stuck, you won’t just give up, you can move on to something else. At the same time, if one project is going really, really good, (provided you’re not missing any deadlines) let the other projects drop away for a bit. Find the best time of day for you to work.
CRD: Anything else we should know about your book, your writing, or you?
I'm so excited to introduce you to my friend Helene Dunbar and her book, These Gentle Wounds, which releases this week. Helene and I met in Nashville, back in the days when I was on the staff of the Room to Write writing retreat, and we've kept in touch ever since. I've been eagerly awaiting the publication of her novel, and the time is finally here. Read on to learn more about it–and her.
These Gentle Wounds comes out May 8. Can you tell us a bit about it?
These Gentle Wounds is a story about a teenage boy named Gordie Allen who survives an almost unspeakable act on the part of his mother. Five years later he’s reached a place in his life where he can keep things almost in balance, but then his father reappears and throws it all out of whack again. It’s about being stronger than you think you are. It’s about brotherhood and the roles we sometimes get trapped into. And it’s about first love and learning to rely on other people and learning to let them rely on you.
The book came out of a number of freelance articles I’d written for an education publisher on the cases of Susan Smith and Andrea Yates, two mothers who killed their children. In January 2011, a mother in New York State drove her four kids into a river, killing three of them. I became curious about what sort of life the surviving child would have and so I started writing about it.
I was also interested in exploring the life of a teen who had survived childhood trauma. Not much has been written about post-traumatic stress disorder in non-military terms.
What attracted you to writing YA?
The only fiction I’ve ever written is YA. I spent a lot of time as a teen reading, only YA wasn’t really such a “thing” then so I read a lot of speculative fiction. I tripped across Melissa Marr’s Wicked Lovely series at a time in my life when, for the first time, I really wasn’t doing a lot of reading because nothing really seemed to make me feel anything. That opened up the whole world of YA. I think the intensity of being a teenager lends itself to fiction, particularly if, like me, you like the books you read to really affect you.
Have you written in other genres? Any desire to?
Um….well…..my first manuscript was a fantasy. My second was magic realism. I think promised myself that I was sticking to contemporary. However…..it’s possible that I might be working on a magic realism book right now….possibly….
What are your release celebration plans? Events? Hoopla?
I’m having a release party at Parnassus here in Nashville on May 17, at 6pm. Parnassus has been amazingly supportive of the local writing community here and I’m still in awe of the fact that they’re willing to let me launch there. I’m still looking into other dates as well, so stay tuned.
What's up next for you?
Oh how I wish I had a Magic 8 ball that would tell me? 🙂
Anything else you'd like to add?
For those who read it, the recipe that Gordie and his older brother Kevin made (pea balls!) is a real thing. The book also has a killer playlist that I’m going to be blogging about soon. Thanks for hosting me, Charlotte!!!!!
Helene Dunbar usually writes features about fiddles and accordions for Irish Music Magazine, but she’s also been known to write about court cases, theater, and Native American Indian tribes. She's lived in two countries, six states, and is currently holed up in Nashville with her husband, daughter, two cats, and the world’s friendliest golden retriever.
I am thrilled to introduce you to my friend Lisa, a fellow Portlander. Her fabulous debut mystery, Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, just released last week. She's got an interesting take on how to get organized for a book launch. Take it away, Lisa!
Book Launches: How Getting Coached Saved My Sanity
My debut novel, Kilmoon, A County Clare Mystery, came out on March 18th, and if anyone six months previously had told me how nuts the ten weeks before launch would be, I would have shrugged. No biggie.
Uh-huh, right. Come to find out that I have two things going against me when it comes to being a coolly together person:
* I suck at long-term planning and nit-picky organizational tasks.
* I’m a tad neurotic so I get overwhelmed and stressed out easily.
I managed to sail along in the land of delusion until January 1st hit, and then I panicked. I had less than three months until Kilmoon launched. How was I to begin the process of organizing myself, much less actually accomplishing tasks? I didn’t know where to start.
The extent to which I suck at organizational tasks and time management is outstanding. I really am a seat-of-the-pants, wing-it kind of person. But, and this is a big but, if you want to launch your novel with any kind of buzz at all, whether you’re self-publishing or going traditional, you have to have your shite together.
Lisa Romeo, my coach, specializes in writers. Hallelujah! The first thing she had me do was break down the zillions of to-dos zinging through my brain into five categories. These are your primary goals for the book launch. Priorities are good! For example, you might have:
For each category, brainstorm every task you can think of. Go for it. No need to be organized yet. Remember that tasks often have sub-tasks, which have sub-tasks. List them all.
Here are some other tips and tricks that kept me sane:
1. Print out a separate calendar just for book launch tasks and then plan backwards. If you know when you want your launch party, then what are the goals leading up to that? Note the sub-task deadlines. Seeing the tasks visually was so helpful for me. This especially helped me keep track of deadlines for guest posts (blog tour category).
2. White board! I set mine up in the living room where I could see it every time I passed by. For each category, I’d list the tasks for that week. I’d get these tasks from my calendar and also my brainstormed task lists.
3. Each Sunday, look over your lists, revise your priorities as needed, and write out your next tasks for the coming week. You might find that creating a mailing list and a newsletter can wait until after the launch. Perhaps developing a new website has become more important. This is OK!
4. Cheat a little. There are always more tasks that come up along the way. I added another column on my white board for “miscellaneous.” This column might include random tasks such as updating your Facebook banner to include your cover art or ordering bookmarks.
5. Be realistic about how much time you have to devote to book launch tasks. You can’t do everything. This lesson was one of the best things I got out of coaching: let stuff go. I was batty enough as it was without trying to be Ms. Perfect Book Launch Mama.
6. Give yourself a mental high-five when you cross a task off your list. You’re doing it!
I’m here to tell you that if I can make it through launch, then you can too. I’ve found that most people are either less charmingly neurotic than I am, or more organized—that is, most have an automatic heads up on me. But I survived! And, my launch went well too.
You’ll learn some things about yourself along the way. I learned that I suck at follow-through and quick decision-making, but, hey, that’s OK. I’ll factor that in for the next launch. Next time, I’ll hire a coach four months ahead of time. That should do the trick, don’t you think?
Merrit Chase travels to Ireland to meet her father, a celebrated matchmaker, in hopes that she can mend her troubled past. Instead, her arrival triggers a rising tide of violence, and Merrit finds herself both suspect and victim, accomplice and pawn, in a manipulative game that began thirty years previously. When she discovers that the matchmaker’s treacherous past is at the heart of the chaos, she must decide how far she will go to save him from himself—and to get what she wants, a family.
“Brooding, gothic overtones haunt Lisa Alber’s polished, atmospheric debut. Romance, mysticism, and the verdant Irish countryside all contribute to making KILMOON a marvelous, suspenseful read.” —Julia Spencer-Fleming, New York Times & USA Today bestselling author of Through the Evil Days
“This first in Alber’s new County Clare Mystery series is utterly poetic … The author’s prose and lush descriptions of the Irish countryside nicely complement this dark, broody and very intricate mystery.” —RT Book Reviews (four stars)
Lisa Alber received an Elizabeth George Foundation writing grant based on Kilmoon. Ever distractible, you may find her staring out windows, dog walking, fooling around online, or drinking red wine with her friends. Ireland, books, animals, photography, and blogging round out her distractions. Lisa lives in the Pacific Northwest. Kilmoon is her first novel.
"I think my wife is enjoying it even more. She keeps stealing it from me."
I allowed as how this didn't surprise me, seeing as how the novel is most definitely women's fiction and my client's book is more of a rough-and-tumble type romp.
"She told me last night that she thinks she's just gotten to a place in the book where she is less irritated with Emma Jean and is beginning to see her change."
I loved hearing this, because it means that my client's wife got Emma Jean. Yes, Emma Jean is self-absorbed to the point of cluelessness at the start (I believe one reviewer said she "wanted to take her by the shoulders and shake her") but there's also a deep woundedness inside her that makes her act this way.
I've always trusted my readers to get that. To get irritated with her, and want to shake some sense into her but still be willing to go on her journey with her–because they understand that she will transform at the end.
I'm not going to give away the ending by saying how she transforms, but suffice it to say she does transform. That's what I love about women's fiction–its characters go on journeys of transformation.
The funny thing is, I had numerous agents tell me that Emma Jean was too "unrelatable." And yet, over and over again, I get comments from people who tell me how much they love her, how they empathize with her, how they know someone just like her.
I'm glad I trusted the reader.
In what ways have you learned to trust the reader?
I've been a reader all my life. I'm sure you have, too, since if you're reading this blog, it's because you're interested in writing. And if you're interested in writing, odds are good that you came to your love of writing through reading.
Maybe you, like me, usually have something like five books that you're reading at one time. (I always have at least one novel going, maybe two. And probably for sure something on spirituality. Maybe another on self-help, and often a business or other non-fiction book as well.)
Perhaps you, like me, enjoy nothing better than an afternoon spent reading a juicy novel by the fire, or a late night when you're kept awake turning the pages of a mystery.
I wonder, too, if, over the last few years, you've not had as much time to read. It's been the case for me. Life got busy with children, then grandchildren, career, friends, housework, you name it. And my lifelong love affair with reading was threatened. It wasn't that I wasn't reading, because I always, always, always have a book going. It was just that I wasn't reading as much.
But all that has changed.
Because I bought a Kindle. And it has revolutionized my reading world. Already, since just last week, I've finished one full novel and am halfway through a second. Plus, I've read sample chapters of two others and begun another one.
I've done more reading in the past few days than I've accomplished in the last month.
There's something amazingly simple about picking the little tablet up, turning it on, and reading a few pages when I have a spare five minutes. The device makes me read faster. I'm a visual scanner, meaning I take in a whole paragraph or sentence at a glance (which is why I'm worthless if someone spells a word or reads me a string of numbers–I need to see the whole), and something about the size of the Kindle's screen enables me to inhale words in huge gulps.
I love it.
And it is good for my writing, as well. Reading is part of the job description for any writer, and it is an excellent way to teach yourself to write. You could do worse than to begin your education by sitting down and reading 100 works in the genre you wish to write in. When I read, it's almost as if the words I inhale rearrange themselves inside me and spit themselves back out on the page. I think I've written more on my novel in the few days I've had the Kindle than I have this entire year.
Words in, words out. It's magic.
It puzzles me why the publishing world is so threatened by the digital revolution. Anything that makes people read more should be considered a good thing, right? One would think so. Another benefit to the Kindle or its pals is the ease with which you can order books. One click and there you are, ready to read. This is a fantastic, thing, people.
I bought the absolute cheapest Kindle available, the one with special offers and ads on it, because I wasn't sure I was going to like it. Turns out I even love the ads, which have introduced me to a new author already. For the record, the special deals generally feature classic authors like Paul Bowles or C.S. Lewis, so its not a bunch of crap by any stretch of the imagination.
One caveat: think hard about what you want your tablet to do. After much thought, I realized that what I really wanted was to read on the device, period. Which is why, despite the siren song of the Ipad, I didn't bite. And now I'm glad, because if I had a full-fledged Ipad, I'd be checking my email or reading HuffPost. I know myself. I am weak. I succumb to such temptations easily.
So that's my story about my new love affair.
How do you read–on an Ereader or with a traditional book?